What’s the Recipe for Innovation?

A growing body of research shows where creative innovation comes from. Here are 9 tips:


1. Look outside your field. Innovation comes from outside your field. Mix with experts in a range of specialties, a strategy cultivated at places like Bell Labs according to the recent NY Times article. Study widely.

2. Find the Eureka. The moment of innovation often feels like a eureka moment, according to Columbia professor William Duggan. It will never come if you’re not knowledgeable and prepared.

3. Get physical. Use your physical body as well as your mind, based on new research at University of Michigan and NYU.

4. Spend time alone. Brainstorming is best done alone, according to this New Yorker article, contrary to how most people have tried it for the past several decades. There’s truth to the lone inventor idea.

5. Engage with critics. Test your ideas on others — who are critical. Convince a skeptic like your sibling, not a loving fan like your mom. Talk to unhappy customers, who are possibly the single best source of new business ideas. A non-judgmental environment fails to bring out the best.

6. Start with what you hate. Find a product or experience that frustrates you. Figure out why it sucks and make it better. The iPod was not the first portable digital music player. But Steve Jobs the perfectionist found all of the ways the experience could be better, and created an iconic product. He may similarly succeed with the new Apple TV set.

7. Coffee and alcohol help. Especially in combination, I find. If you look at the habits of the most famous writers and artists, you’ll find ample evidence of legal and illegal substances, often pushed to life-damaging extremes. Don’t go that far. But there is a reason why many of the leading high tech companies in Silicon Valley do not perform drug tests.

8. Keep your day job. Drop out of college — or quit your job — after you’ve already created an amazing, growing business idea, not before. University life and the workplace can be rich sources of ideas — and recruits, which is why Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg visited Harvard again in November.

9. Make your workplace innovative. Companies can create innovation-friendly environments by following a few tips from McKinsey.

What other tips do you have for being creative?

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